New York State businesses are reopening. Over the past few weeks businesses from construction to offices, retail stores and restaurants have opened with many safety restrictions. New York’s phased reopening plans are outlined in the Forward NY campaign at www.Forward.NY.gov. Each business sector has specific guidelines for opening.
Crystal Surdak, Director of the Jamestown Department of Development, says “the State requirements for reopening put a lot of responsibility on business owners. It is very important that customers and clients are patient and respectful to the staff and servers. This is all new for everyone and the requirements are constantly changing.” She added, “Jamestown city restaurants that want to offer outside dining on their sidewalks must get a permit from the City. We have streamlined that process to last year it took several weeks, this year we are working on turning it around in a week. We are doing everything we can to support local businesses and keep them alive.”
Business owners/managers must read the State’s guidelines for their business and affirm online they have read the protocol or regulations. Once that is done, then they must complete a reopening plan that protects their customers and employees. It is a 7-page form with many questions that make the businesses owner think about how employees and customers move around the business to allow social distancing, sanitizing hands & surfaces and other safety activities including employee training. Employee training is an important part of the reopening plan to keep the virus at bay. “No one wants to go backwards and shut down again. The only way to keep moving forward is to continue to follow all regulations and health and safety guidelines to continue slowing the spread of the virus. The plan is based on risk mitigation and specific health metrics by region and by business sector. It is specifically designed to minimize the risks to employees and customers, and to limit liability to businesses,” says Todd Tranum, President and CEO of the Chautauqua County Chamber of Commerce & Executive Director of the Manufacturers Association of the Southern Tier. All the forms can be found at http://forward.ny.gov/industries-reopening-phase.
If a business owner is not aware of these requirements because they are not a Chamber of Commerce member or a member of an industry support group, there is a hefty fine for non-compliance. This may be a surprise to several local businesses. One local owner of a retail business was excited to open on June 2 when Phase Two began. However, he was not aware he had to go online to affirm he understood the new regulations. Nor did he know about the reopening plan requirement. Another local office-based owner was not willing to comply. They stated they were “too busy and it was way too much to do.” How many others are unaware or unwilling?
For those businesses that are aware and willing, it has been a challenge to meet the regulations. Between the social distancing rules, hand sanitizing requirements and added expenses, it has taken a lot of time to re-design their stores to meet all the regulations. Dot’s Boutique owner Michelle McCray was aware of the regulations. She said, “We had no issues writing up the safety plan. Our store is one big room and we can see everyone who is in it. We have been offering curbside pickup and online sales for about the past three weeks, and now it is by appointment only until the 15 th when we open. We have done better than I expected. We had to rearrange displays and create a one-way path through the store, set up the hand sanitizers, required signage and a checkout shield. The learning process has been constant. Something new every day!” She gratefully added, “It has been very rewarding to see the local support.”
Big Inlet Brewery in Mayville NY has been open since November 2018. They began offering outside seating when Phase Two began. Brent Henderson, co-owner, said about the reopening requirements, “I would say for any business in the hospitality sector this has been tough. Our employees and community have really supported us. We can’t thank them enough. We also got very good information from the NY Restaurant Association and the NY Brewers Association. We had to figure out the one-way traffic pattern through the brewery which is a small space. We were also challenged by bringing in our seasonal staff very quickly and training them on the mask, sanitizing and social distancing protocols.” He sincerely added, “We just ask everyone to be understanding and patient as we move forward. Everyday there is something new to learn and implement.”
Essential Businesses Must Comply Too
Essential businesses are not exempt from the paperwork. Essential businesses that have operated all along also have to send in their affirmation to follow the regulations, as well as writing out their reopening plan.
The Jamestown Gazette falls into the essential business category, however as a media outlet it is in the office category of the reopening plan. The regulations for offices protect the employees and the visitors. At a minimum, employees and visitors are screened each time they enter the office. The regulations require each employee and visitor be asked three questions about their health and contacts in the past two weeks. A visitor’s log must also be maintained in case information for contact tracing is needed.
Hair salons and barbershops have been back to work for a couple of weeks. They can only provide hair related services. Salons are heavily regulated during normal times. The additional cleaning in between customers is not that far out of line with their normal work, although it takes time. The regulations allow 15 minutes in between customers to clean the station and avoid unnecessary contact between clients. They have also had to figure out social distancing between stations and how to work with masks and, in some cases, face shields. Personal care businesses, such as nail and tanning salons are scheduled to open June 16.
As Ms. Surdak said, “It’s a whole new world now.”
Let’s all do our part to wear our mask, wash our hands and keep our distance – so we can continue to move forward.